The suspicion surrounding the directorship of a company being fronted for the running of the lucrative second container terminal at the port of Mombasa has been cited as the cause of the uproar within the maritime industry.
Legislators, mostly from the coastal region, have protested the move by President Uhuru Kenyatta to push through an amendment to the Kenya Merchant Shipping Act, on who should be granted room to run the terminal.
They claim the move was meant to give undue advantage to an Italian-owned company that has stakes at the sleepy Kenya National Shipping Line (KNSL).
KNSL is owned by the Kenya Ports Authority, a public parastatal, which owns 53 per cent, while the Italian’s Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), a private entity, now holds 47 per cent ownership after it acquired some 14 per cent that were held by two other private firms, Unimar and DEG companies.
The Standard established that it is the 14 per cent shareholding that has since been assumed by MSC that have raised the storm, with the Coast region parliamentarians claiming there are shadowy locals in the guise of the Italian firm and keen on taking over the running of the terminal.
“We cannot give the specific owners of MSC. This could be a matter best addressed by the National Assembly Committee on Transport. We want the committee to inquire and tell Kenyans the faces behind this Italian company that now has 47 per cent ownership of KNSL,” said Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir (pictured).
Mr Nassir has been a strong critic of KNSL running of the terminal under its current ownership, and even successfully sponsored a further amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act, to stipulate that any company running the terminal must be fully-owned by the Government.
Technically, it would have meant that the Government would have been forced to nationalise KNSL, buying out MSC shareholding in the shipping line.
The amendment by Nassir was necessitated by the Government’s initial amendment to the law guiding maritime business, where through an omnibus Bill, the State had granted the Cabinet Secretary for Transport sweeping powers in determining who should run the shipping terminals and own a shipping line.
But MPs supported the Mvita MP's further amendment that only fully- Government-owned companies should run the terminals.
However, Uhuru sent back the Bill and through a memorandum, wanted the MPs to delete the requirement that only companies fully owned by the Government could be allowed to run the terminal.
Unable to raise the two-thirds majority to defeat the President’s veto powers, the Bill passed, with Uhuru getting his way despite strong opposition on the floor of the House.
The move, seen as protecting the largely Italian-owned MSC, also attracted the opposition of Britain, Denmark and France, all members of the European Union, and Japan, whose company has been constructing the terminal.
The four countries said the move favouring MSC at the expense of other companies who could be interested in the business.